Are there any chemicals or dyes in most common paper towels that would be harmful if I brewed my coffee using the towel as a filter?

If it is safe, will it affect the taste of the coffee at all?

  • 1
    I use the the re-usable metal mesh cones ... can't beat 'em!
    – lbf
    Apr 28, 2018 at 16:07
  • 1
    The logic that carcinogenic and other contaminants affect coffee filtered through paper towel would also necessarily apply to food prepared on a surface wiped with a paper towel.
    – nigeldodd
    Oct 19, 2018 at 10:16

10 Answers 10


Coffee filters are subject to food grade standards. They aren't just convenient shapes and stronger than paper towels, they have substantially less toxins i.e. bleach byproducts such dioxins (strong carcinogen). As well many paper towels have various purfumes, inks and other chemicals only GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for external use on your skin. Not as a filter medium for an ingested beverage.

And as for white being devoid of dyes and chemicals.. natural wood pulp which is what filters and paper towels are made of is a murky brownish grey colour at it's lightest. If it's white it's been bleached. And in most cases with a more potent bleaching agent if the intended use is for paper towels than filter media.

Sure you can use paper towels. Most brands won't burst suddenly and it won't kill you on the spot anymore than BPA in older water bottles or lead in drinking water. But is this where you want to save a few pennies - by using something that is going to bring unnecessary amounts of known carcinogens into your diet?

I'll stick to coffee filters myself. And unbleached (brown) ones at that.

  • It was downvoted because the original answer was a comment as opposed to an answer. (You can see the original post by selecting "edited DATE / TIME" After the edit it is a far better answer. - I upvoted it for that reason. If you stick around here you too will be able to moderate answers.
    – Mayo
    Feb 26, 2018 at 22:49
  • Don't forget that paper towels are routinely used to dry food in preparation. While they might not make a good cup of coffee, they are expected to be used in contact with food. In an "I need coffee now" situation they might be a good stopgap, but I can't imagine planning to use them
    – Chris H
    Mar 19, 2018 at 16:13
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    Unbleached brown filters could still have bad chemicals used in the production of the paper, right? I think I'd rather use a 100% cotton cloth, like our grandmas, wash it every time and reuse it. Probably the only way to ensure you are not getting toxic chemicals.
    – Marquez
    Mar 26, 2021 at 19:02
  • i never heard of an unbleached brown filter, i will try this
    – john
    Apr 7, 2021 at 3:46

Paper towels!? Knock yourself out!

In this answer in Lifehacks.SE, the accepted answer includes instructions to create a coffee filter out of paper towels. The full instrctions:

I tried to create a similar filter device with a paper towel and it worked perfectly.

Here is what I did:

  • First, make sure you have paper towels... seems foolish to mention, but hey... its true!
    • Approximate the size of your basket with your hand and tear a circle out of the paper towel bout an inch (+/- 2cm) wider than the basket size.
    • Place the paper into the basket and push the center down to touch the bottom.
    • the "buckled" edged should then be folded into an accordion (similar to the shape of a normal filter) -- this will help to maintain a "wall" for the water and grounds so they do not overflow into the drink.
    • Place the coffee grounds into the basket in a normal fashion and brew.

My formatting skills are rather rusty... So in conclusion, it's safe to use paper towels with no risk or worry! But I'll answer your concerns for you.

Since when do paper towels need dye? They're white, so no need for artificial colors here, all they need is some machine to make the cool patterns and all the other cool stuff. Same goes for chemicals. Read the comments for that answer for more information about chemicals that may be inside the paper towel. White paper towels are usually the ones with the lowest chemical content compared to other colored paper towels.

According to the comments, brown paper towels will make your coffee taste like one. Not good at all. Bleached towels should be avoided as they contain bleach or CI (chlorine). And who knows what hidden chemicals could be used in the non-bleached ones, any from A-Z really. So use the paper towels with caution as you might be drinking bleached coffee instead...

Depending on how strong your paper towel is, the strength of your coffee will vary. Quote from same answer used for this one.

  • 6
    Why do you conclude it is safe? Just because someone on Lifehacks.SE suggested it, doesn't mean its a good idea. Paper towels are available in a variety of colours. Even if they are white, that is not be the natural colour, they could have been bleached.
    – vclaw
    Aug 15, 2015 at 22:15
  • 4
    Although it's accepted, this post doesn't really answer the actual question: is it safe, and will it affect the taste?
    – fredley
    Aug 16, 2015 at 10:38
  • @fredley, the last paragraph tells how the taste can be affected by the paper towel. And the paragraph above it tells you to read the comments for the linked answer for more information about the safety of using paper towels as filters. Aug 16, 2015 at 17:51
  • 3
    @Python Links can go stale, can you include the relevant portions in your answer?
    – fredley
    Aug 16, 2015 at 18:01
  • 1
    This answer would be much better if the summary at the top of this answer "Paper towels!? Knock yourself out!" was changed from an unqualified, enthusiastic "YES", to better reflect the body of the answer, which is more of a "Maybe use them, if you can find paper towels that don't add flavor and/or harmful chemicals into your coffee."
    – Makyen
    Oct 19, 2018 at 19:44

So as far as I can tell, some kitchen towel can contain a variety of potentially nasty chemicals, including bleach. While it's only likely to be trace amounts, I'd avoid doing this except in an emergency.

The best towel to use if you do is microwave safe kitchen towel, which has a minimal amount of stuff in it.

As for the taste, I imagine it's going to vary hugely on the towel you use, but at the end of the day it's going to be very difficult to control the brew.

Stick to filter paper whenever possible, have a backup pack.


Doesn't every paper towel contains chemicals (bleach, perfume, etc), some more than others. The one's that don't use chemicals will leave a bad flavour.

Coffee filters use special techniques to avoid that. That's why coffee filters are more expensive.

  • 2
    Hi, this is more of a comment than an answer. Can you expand on it a little bit?
    – Mayo
    Nov 30, 2017 at 13:38

Just tried it with a bounty paper towel. Made a satchel out of a piece of it and left the top open in a cup shape seal and lowered it into the heated water had to make sure the grinds where covered with water because the paper towel dose not strain well very durable and keeps water in unless you lower and lift and swirl the satchel to help drain the water for about 2 minutes then squeeze and dispose grounds. The taste is no different from normally coffee because coffee taste is very strong as for how harmful this is well I would say that eating a burger is worse.Just don't use recycled paper towels :P and the coloured ones stick with the good quality bounty or similar type of paper towel.


Chlorine and its derivatives such as hypo- chlorite and chlorine dioxide should not be used to make recycled paper. Paper towels are sometimes bleached with elemental chlorine (chlorine gas), which causes the release of chlorinated compounds, such as dioxins and furans, which are powerful carcinogens and mutagens. Paper: Bathroom Tissue and Paper Towels


I would not recommend anyone to use paper towels; use coffee filters instead. Yesterday I published an article on this topic on my website.

In my opinion it is better to use a piece of clothing or sock as a coffee filter than paper towels.

  • 3
    Could you copy and paste the relevant information? As it is it reads like link bait.
    – Mayo
    May 1, 2018 at 15:24

Most paper towels are not meant to be used this way and can contain harmful chemicals. Depending on the regulations in your region, the paper towels may not have to meet the same food-safe standards as coffee filters.

On a note of practicality, they can do in a pinch depending how you used them, but you are asking if they are safe or not. That is highly dependent on the manufacturing process and what is left in the paper towel.

I'd also like to note that anytime I have tried to use paper towels as coffee filters, the liquid often travels through the entire paper towel because of their high absorbency property. The only time I have tried to use this was making coffee in a pot of hot water in lieu of having a french press or any other device. I used paper towel as a filter above the cup but found that the liquid soaked through up over the rim of the cup and made quite a mess.


I can tell you as someone who works on machines for a living, I certainly wouldn't use a paper towel for a coffee filter. I don't even like to use them on my hands if I can help it.


I wouldn't recommend you using a paper towel for a filter. It will spoil the coffee and might as well spoil the coffee maker too. You can read the article on my blog to brew a perfect cup of coffee.

  • 1
    Please take the tour and browse through our help center to learn more about how the site works. We also have a section about self-promotion (“How not to be a spammer?”), which I highly recommend for you. The second half of your post cleared falls into the “spam” category - it doesn’t support the answer, it merely promotes your blog.
    – Stephie
    Jun 27, 2019 at 5:36

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